Board Votes Against Heli-Skiing in Kachemak Bay State Park

Move puts hold on effort until park’s management plan is updated.

 

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A final decision has yet to be made on a controversial proposal to allow heli-skiing in Kachemak Bay State Park and the State Wilderness Park but the park’s Citizen Advisory Board has voted against it.

At its meeting November 14th in Homer, the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board voted against allowing heli-skiing until after the park’s management plan has been updated.

Park Ranger Roger MacCampbell says the park’s current plan was originally written back in 1986 and has only been updated once – in 1995. MacCampbell says that, ideally, a park’s management plan should be updated every five to 10 years.

“Things change,” he said. ” We try to anticipate trends and how things are going to change but it’s really hard to say what’s going to be out there 20 years from now.”

The process is on track to start next year, says, MacCampbell, and employees with the state Department of Natural Resources have it as a top priority. He warns, however, that the process could be expensive for the state – and it could take a year or more.

Before a final plan is approved, MacCampbell says the public will have ample opportunity to chime in on which activities they’d like to see in the park – and which they would not.

For now, at least, MacCampbell says heli-skiing appears to be losing the battle for public opinion. The parks department received several hundred comments on the subject, he said, and everyone who attended the advisory board meeting last week was opposed to the idea.

Kenai Heli-Ski is the company interested in expanding its operations into Kachemak Bay State Park. A representative from Kenai Heli Ski could not be reached in time for this story but Chris Shelly laid out the company’s plans on KBBI and KDLL’s “Coffee Table” program November 14th.

Shelly said Kenai Heli Ski is sensitive to concerns raised by park residents and users – including how noise from its helicopters might disturb local wildlife and park residents. He promised that if the company is someday allowed to operate in the park, it would “fly neighborly” and would adhere to any restrictions that might be put in place.

“We want to be part of the community and … we want to get along with our neighbors,” he said.

The issue over allowing heli-skiing in the park isn’t the only one driving the push for an updated management plan. MacCampbell says a plan update is also likely to spell out policies related to the proposed Kachemak Bay Water Trail, funding and staffing for park employees, the number and availability of public use cabins and whether or not to allow jet-skis in Kachemak Bay.

Until the management plan is updated, the final decision on heli-skiing rests with Parks and Outdoor Recreation Director Ben Ellis. As of Monday, Ellis had not made any decision public but MacCampbell expects a decision on the coming days.

Aaron Selbig/KBBI


New Assisted Living Center Offers More Choice For Seniors

A new senior center is set to open next spring in Soldotna, part of a growing industry on the Kenai Peninsula.  Partners from Riverside Assisted Living, who are constructing two of three new senior housing centers on the central peninsula, pitched their new facility at a presentation Friday morning at the Kenai Senior Center.

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The two-story,  48-unit, 32-thousand square foot Riverside Assisted Living Center is set to open in April of next year.  It will be one of three senior centers set to open next year, the other two will be in Kenai.

After a short introduction by one of Riverside’s partners, Rob Nash, about a few of the features and amenities in the new facility (a beauty salon, pool hall and more), Care Coordinator Lane Beauchamp dove into qualifications for living at Riverside, which includes assessing phsyical needs as well as a financial analysis to see how payments from Medicaid will be included.

“They’re looking at folks who are pretty much on the verge of going into a nursing home.  They might be headed that way real soon if they weren’t either in assisted living or getting a lot of help at home,” Beauchamp said.

These assessments are necessary in determining eligibility for Medicaid waivers.

“What they’re looking for (for the waiver program) is if you need help with basic things like bathing, dressing, meal preparation…if you need a lot of help in doing those things, you may qualify for the waiver,” she said.

The average monthly cost for assisted care living is about seventy-five-hundred dollars a month, Beauchamp said, though Nash estimated Riverside’s rate to be in the $5,000-$6,500 range.

“In order to get into an assisted living home, one: you can always pay privately,” Beauchamp said, addressing the financial aspects of moving into Riverside.

As for the Medicaid waiver program, Beauchamp said it allows for individual income (no spouses) of up to $2,095 per month.

As the population of the area ages, demand for assisted care has increased.  Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, who spent many years running the Kenai Senior Center, is happy about the future of senior services on the Central Peninsula.

“We do have smaller facilities (for assisted living) in the Soldotna, Kenai, Sterling area and those have been very helpful to fill a void, but this will be another option for people who would like to live in a larger complex that has more amenities available for them,” Porter said.

The Riverside group is also planning another assisted living center in Kenai at the current site of the Anchor Court trailer park.  That facility is tentatively slated to open in 2013.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Parnell: Mutual Responsibility Between State, Industry Will Ensure Safety In Developing Cook Inlet Energy

Talk about fishing got most of the attention during Governor Sean Parnell’s most recent visit to the Kenai Peninsula, but he did make some time to discuss some of the issues surrounding energy production in Cook Inlet.

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Governor Sean Parnell’s visit to Kenai Tuesday was dominated by talk of salmon fishing, fisheries management, and of course the announcement of a $30 million study to find out more about recent Chinook salmon declines.  But as south central prepares for a possible natural gas shortage in the next couple years, energy companies are working quickly to get drills in the ground and bring Cook Inlet’s enormous gas supply to market.

That has raised concerns about how well prepared some of these companies are to operate in such a challenging natural and regulatory environment.  Buccaneer Energy has had a jack-up rig parked in the Homer Harbor for about three months for all manner of repairs and upgrades while in possible violation of the Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Management plan and Hilcorp has recently been able to move forward with acquiring assets from Marathon only after the Federal Trade Commission dropped its investigation of that deal after a letter from the state Attorney General’s office recommended the merger go unchallenged.

To Governor Parnell, the most important thing now is finding ways to get these resources out of the ground and to consumers.

“We’ve got a huge resource here in the Inlet, particularly with oil and gas.  That means jobs and livelihoods and cheaper energy for south central residents,” Parnell said.  ”So bottom line is, we have a resource that belongs to Alaskans that needs to be used by and for Alaskans,” he said.

Parnell said that expectations run two ways between the state and the companies operating in Cook Inlet.  The state is expecting businesses to be respectful stewards of the areas in which they operate, and they in turn have expectations of the state.

“The expect that they can work with government agencies on a consistent and fair basis so that they know the rules of the road,” he said.  ”Our responsibility is to ensure that they know those rules of the road and we can hold companies to that.  On the companies’ side, they need to know that they will not be targeted…just because they’re in a particular business,” said Parnell.

He said the question of making sure operators are ready to business here is partly up to them.

“Our agencies make sure that our regulatory requirements are met, it’s the companies’ responsibility to make sure they meet them, and with that mutual accountability there, I think we can create a growing economy and cheaper energy for south central residents,” he said.

Governor Parnell made his comments in Kenai during a community meet and greet at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Parnell Announces $30 Million Salmon Study in Kenai

Governor Sean Parnell visited Kenai Tuesday to meet with local officials, mingle with residents and make a $30 million announcement.  That’s the amount the Governor is proposing to spend on a five-year Chinook Salmon Research Initiative.

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A room filled mostly with fishermen was greeted with the news that $10 million will be marked in the budget for next year, to be devoted to king salmon research.  Before making his announcement, Governor Parnell made it around the room to hear what was on people’s minds, and mostly it was fishing.

“We just want him to realize how important reds are to the community,” said Megan Smith, an east side set netter, after the Governor spoke with her and fellow setnetters Amber Every and Lisa Gabriel.

“Next summer, hopefully we can move forward and work for a solution to let everyone harvest and everyone have a piece of the pie, because there’s plenty for everyone,” Smith said.

“He does know the issues and I felt he was very receptive to us,” Gabriel said of her brief conversation with Parnell.

“We need to figure out what’s happening with these king salmon; is there a conservation concern, and if so how we’re going to deal with it,” Every said about the research initiative.

The Governor clued the three in on his announcement just before he took to the podium to make it official.

The research plan is the product of a two-day salmon symposium held in Anchorage in October, when scientists, fisheries managers and fishermen from across the state pitched in ideas about the kinds of information they were interested in gathering and what a research plan would include.

The plan that came out of that meeting will include adult, juvenile and harvest assessments, plus genetics and biometrics all taken into account with what makes up the local knowledge base of these fisheries.  The $10 million used to get the program started this year is in addition to the f$14.6 million the Department of Fish and Game already spends annually on Chinook research and management.

The Governor offered his pledge that regardless of the causes for poor king salmon returns that forced both sport and commercial fisheries this summer, the fishermen affected by those closures aren’t alone.

“There’s nothing quite like being concerned about where you’re going to be, how you’re going to make it through the winter, how you’re going to pay next month’s bills,” Parnell said.

“There are no easy answers to the fish dilemmas that we have. Sometimes there are simplistic answers given but there are no simple answers.  All I know is that we’re in it together.  And I know that I will work with every one of you and every group imaginable to work together to solve these issues and make sure we have a sustainable fishery,” the Governor said.

The Chinook Salmon Research Initiative is included in the Governor’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year and will use information from 12 indicator river systems from all over the state to develop new strategies that will grow king salmon returns.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


The Economics of Fisheries Closures in 2012

Commercial fishermen and others who felt the economic effects of this year’s fishing season on the Kenai Peninsula are still grasping for a full understanding of how, and how much, these industries contribute to the local economy. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has taken the first steps in putting together an economic study that might provide that understanding.

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There is no doubt that the 2012 fishing season was a challenging one for the many anglers and setnet fishermen whose livelihoods depend on strong salmon returns and opportunities to harvest those salmon.  But learning the extent of the damage of the past season has been a challenge.  In August, Governor Sean Parnell’s office estimated commercial fishing losses to be ten million dollars.  That figure was revised a couple weeks ago to nearly seventeen million dollars.  While it’s important to have a firm understanding of commercial losses from the east side set net fishery, since that fishery is eligible for federal disaster aid, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Economists talk a lot about consumer confidence, and I can tell you that next year, when the east side setnetters are gearing up for a fishing season, their confidence is not going to be real high,” said Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre during an episode of ‘The Coffee Table’.  

Mayor Navarre was joined that day by an economist who has studied Cook Inlet fisheries extensively, UAA economics professor Dr. Gunnar Knapp.  Knapp recognizes the sizeable economic contributions of both sport and commercial fishing to the area, but, he says gathering enough of the right kinds of data is a challenge in painting a full picture of the entire fishing economy.

“On the commercial side, we have pretty good numbers, reliable numbers on how many fish are caught, what fishermen are paid and how many people work in that,” said Knapp.
“It’s a lot tougher on the sport fish side to track the same kinds of things because the way the sport fishing effects the economy is more indirect.  All these people come down to sport fish and then they hire guides or charter vessels and then they spend money in stores and restaurants, hotels and gear shops…and it’s a lot harder to put numbers to it, although a lot of work’s been done,” Knapp said.

He said efforts to gather those statistics have been made at different times to varying degrees of success at both the state and borough level.  Navarre announced in October the Borough is looking into a full economic study in order to know more about those kinds of data.

Putting together an economic study of such a large portion of the economy involves a lot more than simply tracking down numbers related to retail sales or how many permits were sold by the state.  Given the challenges seen in 2012, one aspect of the study would likely be the effect of specific management decisions, as management decisions have been pointed to as the largest contributor to the commercial fishery’s poor economic performance, Knapp said.

“One of the central questions is ‘what are the implications for lots of different (user) groups of particular ways of managing the fisheries?’ and also…in-season decisions that might need to be made.  That’s a complicated question,” said Knapp.

Simply bringing up the possibility of conducting an economic study, and consulting with an economist familiar with industry mark the first steps toward actually gathering and synthesizing data, Navarre said, adding that any study would have to serve a specific purpose for the Borough.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL



Animal Rescue Issues Heard At Borough Assembly

With just a few non-controversial items on the agenda for Tuesday evening’s Borough Assembly meeting, there was an opportunity for the Assembly to hear some public testimony and recognize the efforts of one certain championship football team.

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Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


Soldotna Native Has A Shot At $100K Prize

One of Soldotna’s own has been chosen to compete for a $100,000 scholarship during this year’s PAC-12 Championship football game on November 30th.

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Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


From The Headlines: Study Links High Turbidity To High Boat Traffic

Last week, Peninsula Clarion Reporter Rashah McChesney wrote about a preliminary study done by the Kenai Watershed Forum in contract with the Department of Environmental Conservation identifying a link between increased boat traffic on the Kenai River and increased turbidity levels that exceed state standards for water quality.  Here’s our conversation from the headlines:

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


A New Paradigm: Salmon Task Force Meets In Soldotna

The Task Force organized in October to address issues related to the Department of Fish and Game’s king salmon management plan met for the first of four meetings Friday at Kenai Peninsula College.

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The task force was put together in October, a result of one of the worst king salmon fishing seasons on record.  Chaired by Board of Fish members Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna and Vince Webster of King Salmon, the panel has one objective: to give the Board of Fish recommendations on possible changes to the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan before it’s meeting in March.  If nearly eight hours of discussion on just the first day of four scheduled meetings is any indication, that’s much easier said than done.  Webster summed up the panel’s purpose succinctly during a public comment period.

But before any recommendations were made, there was a lot of discussion about what information is necessary to make those recommendations, where it should come from and just how detailed it needs to be.  An early pattern in the discussion was whether concrete numbers regarding projected run strength, escapement and more, are even necessary; the argument being that whatever the management numbers come out to be, the problem of a fixed management plan persists.

Kevin Delaney is a biologist and the former Director Sportfishing for the Department of Fish and Game and now does consulting work, namely for the Kenai River Sportfishing  Association.  He said those numbers are important, but must be looked at in a broader context.

“There is uncertainty around everything we do.  Mother nature is not kind to our technology,” Delaney said.  ”Some days we are highly certain of what we’re assessing.  Other days, we’re operating in a fog, of sorts, only we can put numerical bounds around this fog.  That’s what statistics is all about.  I’ve always been (as a fishery manager) a person who embraces that uncertainty and tries to embody it in the plans that we make and the implementation strategies,” Delaney said.

Members of the force took turns at the microphone voicing concerns about data, how it’s gathered, what it means and how important it is to managing fisheries.

“I’m a builder, I like to work from the ground up (and) I’d like to start with the data,” said Rob Williams, President of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association and a member of the Task Force.  ”Our immediate worry right now is what happened in 2012, and then then other thing I think is important to understand is where do you draw the line between a few hundred king salmon short and not being able to harvest a million sockeye?  Who’s call is that…especially on these bumper sockeye runs?” Williams wondered.

Toward the end of the first days’ discussions, one thing was very clear.  We’re in a new paradigm of low king salmon abundance and that affects all user groups around the Kenai River.

“Like a good marriage, I think something like this needs compromise on both sides of the table,” said Task Force member Dennis Gease, who is representing personal use interests on the panel.  ”I’ve got friends on both sides of the table…and I’ve got some of those friends that say ‘we won’t give them a damn thing. They’re not taking anything from us, they’ve already got too much’ and that’s the wrong attitude.  We all have to come here willing to give up something or in the end, none of us will have anything,” Gease told the panel.

The recommendations and proposals put forth Friday will be reviewed and more time for comments about those and other ideas will be made at the next Task Force meeting December 14th at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Slow Vehicle Turnouts Planned For Sterling Highway Between Soldotna, Homer

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is developing a Highway Safety Improvement Program project that will construct Slow Vehicle Turnouts on the Sterling Highway.  The project would add 22 of the turnouts to reduce injuries and fatalities between Soldotna and Bay Crest Hill in Homer.

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The proposed turnouts would be the best way to mitigate collisions on the Sterling Highway in the short term, according to a DOT crash pattern analysis done between 2004 and 2008.  In those five years, a total of 613 crashes were reported, including six fatalities and almost 200 injuries.  Half of the fatal injuries were head-on collisions.

The analysis outlined some of the reasons for those crash statistics, describing what frequent drivers of the highway probably have already observed. From the report: 55-percent of the traffic on the Sterling highway in the summer months is made up of RV’s, delivery trucks, commercial vehicles and vehicles pulling trailers.  The mixture of lower speed, ‘sightseeing’, RV and boat hauling drivers with more aggressive weekend fishing trip drivers causes conflict and results in driver impatience, inattention, excessive speed, improper passing fatigue and more.  The situation becomes more complex in the summer months when as many 7,000 vehicles travel that stretch of highway each day.  In the winter months, that number drops to about 2,500.

Part of the problem is too many drivers traveling at different speeds, but on top of that, the report recognized a total lack of dedicated passing lanes and slow vehicle turnouts, or SVT’s, on the 72 miles of highway that was analyzed.

The solution proposed by DOT is the installation of 22 SVT’s.  The analysis said passing lanes would be desirable, there are simply too few one-mile stretches of highway that don’t involve wetlands or visibility constraints.  The department used a set of five criteria to determine placement of the turnouts.  They will be placed according to where they would provide the most benefit, where sight distance is available for slow vehicles to reenter the highway, at or near where crashes have occurred, where there are no apparent environmental impacts or utility issues and where turnouts or passing lanes could be constructed with minimal widening of the roadway.

The department cites a National Cooperative Highway Research Program report that suggests a reduction in all fatal and injurious crashes of forty-percent, and reduction in all crashes of thirty-percent.  Incidents where a vehicle runs off the road is the type of crash that would be most susceptible to correction with the SVT’s.  Head on, rear end and lane-changing crashes are also anticipated to be reduced.

A series of public meetings is scheduled for later this month beginning at Homer Middle School on November 27th, Ninilchik School the following day and Tustumena Elementary on November 29th.  All meetings will be from 4 pm to 7 pm.  The project is scheduled to begin next year.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


SoHi Hands Homer First Hockey Loss Of Season

 

SoHi defeated Homer 6-0 Tuesday night at Kevin Bell Arena in Homer (Photo: Aaron Selbig/KBBI)

The Homer High hockey team is off to the best start in school history. The Mariners took their undefeated 6-0 record into North Star Conference play Tuesday night, in a tough battle against the rival Soldotna Stars.

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With the National Hockey League locked out, hockey fans in Homer haven’t has a whole lot to cheer about – that is until the Homer High Mariners opened their hockey season at a blistering pace, winning their first six games and outscoring opponents at the recent “End of the Road” tournament, 28 to 5.

The Mariners opened North Star Conference play at Kevin Bell Arena Tuesday night, against one of the programs in the state, the Soldotna Stars.

SoHi jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on an unassisted goal by Nick Wrobel. The score remained at 1-0 Soldotna until, with 12:32 left in the second period, the Homer offense found the back of the net for the team’s first score.

A moment later, however, officials waived the goal off.

Homer Head Coach Buck Laukitis shrugged off the disallowed goal, saying hockey is “a game of inches.”

“It was a tight play at the net … I’m nto sure what the call was,” said Laukitis. “You’re going to win some and lose some.”

For most of the second period, the Mariners kept up the pressure, controlling the puck and keeping the action on the Soldotna end of the ice. The Homer offense had some nice, crisp passing but just couldn’t seem to get a decent shot on Soldotna goalkeeper Cody Harvey.

With the score still stuck at 1-0 Stars deep into the final period, Homer finally gained an advantage with 3:49 left in the game, when Soldotna forward Jarrett Urban was sent to the penalty box after crashing into Homer goalie Alex Sanarov.

But then – in a strange twist seldom seen in a high school hockey game – the officials took away Homer’s powerplay chance by assessing the fans with an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty for repeatedly beating on the glass.

That evened the numbers and moments later, Wrobel scored his second goal of the night, icing the win for the Stars.

After that, it was all over but the Zamboni.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Laukitis. “We played hard but just didn’t come out on the right end of things.”

Like Mariner hockey fans, Coach Laukitis – who has been there throughout the team’s struggles in recent years – is excited about the future.

The Mariners head up to the Mat-Su Valley this weekend for tournament play before returning to Kevin Bell Arena next week for a game against Kenai.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


Report: One-Third Of KPBSD Students Overweight Or Obese

About 36 percent of students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are overweight or obese – that according to a new study published by the Alaska Division of Public Health.

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The impetus if the study came from MAPP – or Mobilizing for Action Through Planning and Partnerships – a Homer coalition that has been working to collect health-related information across the Kenai Peninsula. In 2010, MAPP compiled health data on students on the southern Kenai Peninsula. The school board found that information useful and decided to expand it district-wide.

The latest study was conducted last school year using data collected by school nurses as part of an annual student health assessment. State analysts at the Department of Health and Social Services used height and weight values to calculate body mass index for more than 7-thousand students in all grades, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The findings were shared with the School Board at its meeting Monday and have been published online.

District Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said he was not surprised by the results.

“It’s a little disappointing … (but ) I am not that surprised,” said Atwater. “We are a less than healthy group of people and we need to improve that.”

The numbers on the Kenai Peninsula are not much different than the rest of the state. Students in the Anchorage School District have been found to be at about the same 36 percent level as the Kenai Peninsula but a study in the Mat-Su Valley found only about 26 percent of students to be overweight or obese.

Here on the peninsula, The study found that 63 percent of students are at a healthy weight and just over one percent are underweight. Males are slightly more likely to be overweight or obese than females, 37.6 percent to 34.1 percent. The grade with the highest percentage of overweight students was pre-kindergarten with 42.3 percent, while only 30.8 percent of 3rd graders fell into that category.

The study found that racial and ethnic minorities – particularly Alaska Native and American Indian students – were at a higher risk particular risk, with nearly half of them overweight or obese.

Atwater said the school district has already taken several measures in recent years to combat the obesity problem among students, including banning junk foods in school vending machines and offering fresh fruit and vegetables at many schools.

The district has also been recognized for its education efforts concerning nutrition and exercise, he said.

On the state level, the Department of Health and Social Services launched the “Play Every Day” campaign earlier this year, to raise awareness about the risks of childhood obesity and to encourage children to be more physically active.

The MAPP coalition has also responded to the problem, implementing several school-based childhood obesity prevention initiatives supported by the school district administration, including USDA “People’s Garden” projects on school grounds, a school-based nutrition education pilot project and collaboration with “Nature Rocks Homer,” a group focused on access to outdoor physical activity for children.

Dr. Ward Hurlburt is Alaska’s chief medical officer. He considers childhood obesity the predominant public health threat of this generation, because obese children are more likely to experience health problems like diabetes and asthma.

Atwater says the study will be repeated annually and the data gathered will be used as a baseline to measure future progress. The complete report can be found at the Department of Health and Social Services website, dhss.alaska.gov.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


SoHi Presents – “Flowers for Algernon”

Young thespians at Soldotna High School were putting the finishing touches on their performance of the play ‘Flowers For Algernon’ Wednesday morning.  In case you don’t remember from your junior high literature class days, it is the story of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded man who undergoes the same surgery as a mouse, for whom the play is named.

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“Flowers for Algernon” plays this Thursday (11/15) Friday (11/16) and Saturday (11/17) at 7 pm at Soldotna High School.

 

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL


State Revises Revenue Loss Estimate For Commercial Fishermen

Congress has just a few weeks to act on the request for federal disaster aid to local fishermen affected by this year’s historically low run of king salmon.  The Alaska congressional delegation Tuesday received some updated information that paints a more detailed picture of just what those effects were.

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The Alaska Department of Commerce has revised its initial estimate of the economic impact of closed commercial fisheries this summer as a result of poor king salmon returns to Cook Inlet and elsewhere in the state. The Associated Press reports that Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell told the Alaska congressional delegation in a letter that the department estimates a loss of $16.8 million in direct revenue to commercial fisheries.

In August, Governor Sean Parnell petitioned the federal government for a disaster declaration based on the economic effects of those poor runs, which was estimated at the time to be $10 million.  The declaration made commercial fishermen eligible for federal disaster aid.

In September, Bell, along with Fish and Game officials and representatives from the Parnell administration visited the Kenai Peninsula to hear concerns from affected user groups as data was being gathered about the scope of the problem.  Bell said they were using a variety of sources to gain a better understanding of the situation.

Bell said the figure presented to Alaska’s two senators and lone representative reflects only a portion of the financial loss to Alaskans, as it does not factor in lost wages by crew members who were unable to fish or the support businesses that rely on commercial fishing.

It will be up to a lame duck Congress to appropriate any relief funding.  Federal law calls for a comparison of commercial fishery revenues in the year of the disaster to revenues of the five previous years.  For Upper Cook Inlet setnetters, the five year average was $10.9 million.  In 2012, as a result of closed fisheries, that number dropped 91 percent to $1.1 million.

No harvest estimates were available for subsistence fishing, but the state estimated a loss of  29,630 angler days for guided and unguided sport fishing, which would have totaled $17.7 million in direct and indirect spending.

The reason for poor king salmon returns remains unknown but researchers suspect ocean factors. State officials last month organized a symposium to identify gaps in a king salmon research plan and called for more data to be collected.  The first meeting of an Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, established by the state Board of Fish, will be held in Kenai this Friday.

-Associated Press, Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Remembering On Veteran’s Day

Sunday marked the 94th anniversary of the signing of the treaty that ended hostilities in World War I.  It was celebrated as Armistice Day until 1954 when the day was set aside to recognize the service of all veterans.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Celebrating Salmon Through Song and Verse

As a follow up to last week’s salmon celebration at Kenai Peninsula College that featured a presentation on the importance of salmon to subsistence cultures by Dr. Alan Boraas, this week’s presentation, sponsored by the Kenai Watershed Forum, was an artistic outlet for the fishing culture.

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Performers at Wednesday’s event included:

Brent Johnson
Meezie Hermansen
Dave Atcheson
Steve Schoonmaker w/ Robert Pepper
Clark Whitney Jr. w/Robert Pepper
Dan Pascucci
-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-

FTC Investigation Into Hilcorp, Marathon Deal Closed

The energy company Hilcorp has announced another step toward finalizing its acquisition of Cook Inlet assets from Marathon.  The transaction had been under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, but that investigation has closed and the deal will move forward as South Central Alaska braces for a possible natural gas shortage in the coming years.

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In letters to both Hilcorp and Marathon, the FTC notified the companies that it had closed its investigation of the purchase of Marathon’s assets in Cook Inlet as a possible violation of both the Clayton Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.  In a separate statement released by the FTC Wednesday, the Commission said the transaction raised “competitive concerns for the Commission because Marathon, Hilcorp and ConocoPhilips today account for over ninety-percent of the natural gas produced in Cook Inlet”.  The Commission was also concerned that because Hilcorp will control all of the gas storage capacity in south-central Alaska and the majority of the infrastructure necessary to deliver the gas, there is a potential to “impair efforts to bolster natural gas production from sources other than Hilcorp”.

In an October presentation to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska and several south-central utility companies, Petrotechnical Resources of Alaska managing partner Tom Walsh presented a dim outlook for the immediate future of energy supply and demand dynamic in south-central, concluding that importing natural gas would be the only way to ensure stable supplies until more development from Cook Inlet comes online.  That’s where the Hilcorp deal with Marathon comes in.

“Getting support for the acquisition is of the utmost importance to us at this time,” said Hilcorp spokesperson Lori Nelson.  She did not go so far as to say that short-term energy needs outweigh the FTC’s concerns, but that they do recognize that demand will soon outpace production.

“There will be a 60-day public comment period that is part of the process of approval of the consent decree and we hope that folks will reach out and support the acquisition because until this decree is actually approved by the Court, we won’t be able to move forward with any of our development plans,” she said.

In its statement Wednesday, the FTC said the concerns about both energy security and the competitive implications of the agreement led the Alaska Attorney General’s office to file a consent decree and recommend the merger not be challenged. Cooperation from the state of Alaska, including the Attorney General and the Department of Natural Resources made this next step possible, Nelson said.

“They recognized that we’re here and we’re a reputable company and we’re willing to make the investments necessary to further develop and increase production out of the basin,” she said.

Terms of the consent decree include price caps for customers over the next five years.  Under the control of Marathon, net production from the assets in question averaged ninety-three million cubic feet per day of gas and one-hundred-twelve barrels per day of oil in 2011.  Nelson says that until the deal is finalized, they can’t say what their production plans will be.

 

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Giessel, Seaton Take Peninsula Senate Races

The Kenai Peninsula had only two contested legislative races in Tuesday’s general election – the race for Senate District N on the northern peninsula and the race for House District 30 on the southern peninsula.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday night, 15 of 19 precincts had reported in Senate District N and it appeared that incumbent Senator Cathy Geissel had won reelection, defeating challenger Ron Devon. Geissel has 57 percent of the vote to Devon’s 42 percent.

In House District 30, with all 11 precincts reporting in, incumbent Representative Paul Seaton has defeated challenger, Liz Diament. Seaton collected 71 percent of the vote to Diament’s 28 percent.

Many Alaska legislative seats were essentially clinched before Tuesday’s election, including Senate District O, where Peter Micciche of Soldotna was running unopposed. Micciche upset incumbent Senator Tom Wagoner of Kenai in the Republican primary. On the House side, Republicans Mike Chenault of Nikiski and Kurt Olson of Kenai were also running unopposed.

-Aaron Selbig/KBBI-


A Right, A Privilege, A Duty: Kenai Votes

Voters across the country filled polling places Tuesday to cast ballots for local and national elections alike.  We spent some time at the Kenai Senior Center Tuesday to speak with people after they’d made their voice heard in the democratic process.

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-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Resource Development And Subsistence Living: What One Means To The Other.

As modern development speeds toward some of the last truly subsistence-based economies and tribes in the world, researchers are working to better understand this way of life.  Two anthropologists from Kenai Peninsula College have been working on a project just like that for the past two years and recently presented what they learned in Soldotna.

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In January, subsistence fishers in the village of New Stuyahok on the Nushagak River took part in a blessing of the water.  Blessing the water seeks to keep it healthy and provide a suitable home for the salmon and other wild foods the villages and cultures of the area depend on.

I learned this, and much more, at a presentation entitled “Salmon Science, Stories and Celebration” given by Kenai Peninsula College Anthropology professor Dr. Alan Boraas  in Soldotna.  It’s the culmination of more than two years of meeting and interviewing people in the native villages of Bristol Bay for a study commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

“So this study, which is really voices of the people, is to express how that culture operates today as a salmon culture and it focuses on the Nushagak and the Kvichak Rivers,” Boraas told the crowd of about 50.

He teamed with Dr. Catherine Knott of KPC’s Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer and asked just a few basic, open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of how the Dena’ina and Yup’ik tribes there value salmon and the other natural resources around them.  They interviewed fifty-three people from seven different villages. Working through a Yup’ik interpreter, a village elder is asked during one interview what would happen if the salmon didn’t come back.

“He said ‘we’d starve’.  When we asked that question we got some variation of that response.  People did not say ‘well, we’d move away, well, we’d eat something different, well, we’d change.  Moving away, eating something different was not an option.  The depth of the reliance and the importance of salmon in their lives is reflected well, I think, in that response to that question,” Boraas said.

Dr. Borass’ work studying the native cultures of the Cook Inlet Basin goes back nearly 40 years.  He said people in the villages where a traditional subsistence lifestyle has managed to remain the primary way of life simply don’t view salmon and other food sources, or the systems that support them, as a commercial commodity.

“People raise to the sacred that which is most important in their lives.  Salmon and clean water are that thing,” he said.

He also discussed how even in places where subsistence still rules the day, modern technology has demanded some level of monetary income to pay for boats, nets, fuel and other supplies and the difficulty in finding a balance between the demands of modern fishing and cultural traditions.

“If you have a full time job, you can’t also spend eight hours a day on subsistence.  It has to be some kind of part-time type work that would provide you with enough cash, and remember cash is not wealth in itself, but that small amount of cash then translates into a full freezer,” Boraas said.

The idea of a freezer full of fish is an important one, as it is one of three components of what the people of these villages regard as wealth.

“People would say one of three things and sometimes all three,” Boraas said, describing the local notion of wealth.  ”A freezer full of salmon.  That’s a wealthy person.  Family.  That’s wealth.  And one I didn’t expect: freedom.  Nobody talked in terms of materialism,” he said.  ”Now…a good four-wheeler and a good boat, that’s a good deal but wealth is defined in terms of fish, family and freedom,” he said.

This was just the first of three presentations at KPC on the cultural importance of salmon and wild food to the natives of Bristol Bay.  At the next presentation on November 7th, local fishermen and educators will gather to share stories, poems and songs celebrating salmon, and the final meeting later in November, scientists will sit in on a panel discussion on king salmon in Cook Inlet.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai City Council To Address In-Town Hen Houses

Later this week, the Kenai City Council will take a look at a proposal to amend the city’s code as it relates to livestock regulations within city limits.  The amendment, if adopted, would make it a little easier for fans of farm-fresh eggs to maintain a steady supply.

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“It seems to be a trend in a lot of places nowadays, so why not Kenai,” asked Kenai City Council member Mike Boyle when asked why he introduced an ordinance for this week’s city council meeting that would amend city code to allow hen houses within city limits. The trend he referred to is part of the broader local foods movement.  Raising chickens in your back yard.

“Personally, I’ve always thought it was a good idea.  There are a lot of communities that have chicken ordinances, including Anchorage…and I thought ‘maybe it’s time’,” he said.  ”We havest fish, harvest game, some people grow gardens, but I think it plays right into that (local foods movement) as well,” Boyle said.

The ordinance doesn’t make legal something that wasn’t legal before.  It simply adjusts the language in the section of municipal code that defines what counts as livestock.  Currently, livestock is defined as any one of seventeen different animals, things like cows, horses and sheep, and chicken.  The new ordinance, if adopted, would alter that definition to say more than 12 hens.  Roosters are still off limits.  The current rules only apply to lots of 40,000 square feet or less.

 Other cities around the country and the state have recently adopted measures that allow people to keep a flock of hens in the yard, but as with so many things, in Alaska there are a few extra things to keep in mind.  Like bears.

“Folks who live outside of town who have been keeping chickens have had to deal with bear problems, and so folks in town will likely have to deal with some bear problems as well,” said Lydia Clayton, Agriculture and Horticulture Agent for the UAF extension office in Soldotna.

“I think people who are going to attempt to keep chickens in their back yard want to be really prepared for those types of intruders,” she said.

Tall, strong, preferably electric fences will likely be necessary to keep the bears out of the hen house.

Clayton said even small measures like this can be a positive step toward food security.

“If something were to happen to us, the amount of time that we would be without food would be considerably greater (than in the Lower 48), so…your neighbors having 12 chickens in their backyard and being able to provide you with eggs, whether that’s on a continual or occasional basis, is a step toward improving that food security,” Clayton said.

The Extension office has plenty of educational materials to help guide any would-be poultry farmers with things like proper coop construction and how to care for chickens in the winter.  The ordinance is on the agenda for Wednesday night’s city council meeting at 7 pm.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-


Kenai Peninsula Well Represented on Salmon Task Force

Membership for the task force charged with finding new ways to manage salmon fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet has been released.  The 11-member group includes several representatives from the Kenai Peninsula.

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The first meeting of the task force will be in Kenai November 16th, and most of the members won’t need to travel far.  The co-chairs are Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna and Vince Webster from King Salmon, but seven of the remaining nine are from the Kenai Peninsula, including local commercial setnetter Jim Butler who got the call Wednesday morning from the Board of Fish.

“I’m very flattered and it’s a privilege,” Butler said.

Joining him as representatives of the setnet community are Ken Coleman and Robert Williams.  Dwight Kramer and Kevin Delaney are the two sport fishers, Dennis Gease will represent Personal Use fishers, Andy Szczesny is the lone sport guide, Ian Pitzman of Homer fills the seat for Drifters and Luther Anderson of Palmer will represent the marine recreation interests.

The Task Force will meet four times between November and February with the goal of taking recommendations to the Board of Fish for possible changes in the management plans that shut down king salmon fishing and commercial setnetting almost entirely in 2012.  Butler, who has participated in many of the different Cook Inlet fisheries going back to the 1970’s, says his main concern is educating himself and the fishing communities who will be affected by any management changes.

“What I’m hoping to do is use it as an opportunity to get a better understanding and a common view of what did happen this summer,” Butler said.  ”We know the impact of what happened, but…the Department (of Fish and Game) hopefully has data and information so that first we can become educated about the situation that we’re looking at from a…biological data point of view,” he said.

The Task Force will likely have as a resource some of the findings from the Salmon Symposium held in Anchorage in October.  The public comment period for a gap analysis that will direct researchers in the future is open until November 9th through the Fish and Game website.  Butler says those findings will be an important part in putting together a comprehensive plan.

 All four of the group’s meetings will take place in Kenai, which Butler said is appropriate.

“I’m proud to be associated with the folks on the Task Force because I think they’re all going to be hard working and roll up their sleeves and try and get in there and see if we can make the system a little better.  I don’t think anybody’s going in there with too big an axe to grind,” he said.

The first meeting of the UCI Salmon Task Force is scheduled for November 16th from 9 am to 5 pm at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building on K-Beach Road.  The other meetings are scheduled for December 14th, January 14th and February 14th and will all be held at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai.

-Shaylon Cochran/KDLL-